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|October 1, 1999||
Floods threaten poll in north Bihar
Soroor Ahmed in Patna
The recent floods that led to the postponement of election in four seats of North Bihar have made the country realise how acute that problem is in the state.
With 76 per cent of trans-Ganga Bihar prone to floods, and 900,000 of the total 5.8 million hectares remaining water logged for half a year, one cannot dream of developing even the basic infrastructure without having any permanent solution. Newsmen who fanned out to 16 constituencies of north and east Bihar have more stories on flood devastation than on the poll scenario. Those who went to Raj Mahal, Purnea, Bhagalpur, Khagaria and Katihar remained trapped there for days as rail and road were badly disrupted. On the Bhagalpur-Sahebganj route of Raj Mahal constituency, a rail bridge caved in, thus snapping links with Calcutta.
With the National Highway 31 and the single-track railway line, both running closely parallel to the northern bank of Ganga, as the only connecting links, disruption of traffic for days is fraught with danger. Similarly, the double-track railway line running closely parallel to southern bank of Ganga is the lone connecting route of East Bihar and Howrah. Today both the rail routes on either side of Ganga and NH 31 lie shattered. In fact this is an annual phenomenon; yet there seems to be no solution.
Experts hold poor drainage facilities and the construction of Farakka Barrage in West Bengal responsible for the near-permanent water-logging. They seek the immediate attention of our defence planners as no country can afford to leave strategically important region at the mercy of nature.
The NH 31 which runs closely parallel to Ganga for over 150 km in North Bihar before entering North Bengal narrates the story of poor planning and sheer neglect on the part of our early-day planners. Though it was built after the Himalayan debacle of 1962 the top engineers and experts of the country who assembled here, for reasons best known to them, did not make any arrangements worth the name for the drainage of flood water.
Burhi Gandak, flowing north to south, crosses NH 31 to fall into Ganga near Khagaria, while the meandering and unpredictable Kosi meets the same fate after passing underneath the highway near Kursela in Katihar district. Since both these rivers carry the waters of hundreds of big and small Himalayan rivers, there is every likelihood of water spilling over into the entire belt.
As the bridges over Kosi and Burhi Gandak are not enough for all the water to pass and finally fall into Ganga, engineers now realise that there should have been a series of small bridges and culverts so that the accumulated water flow towards the other side of the NH 31 and slowly fall into Ganga. Even a layman can see as to how the NH 31 has abruptly bisected several small rivers and canals all over the region. Instead of building bridges over them, the road has unnaturally and criminally blocked the water of these small rivers and canals.
The former engineer-in-chief of water resources department, Kubernath Lal, while answering a query by this correspondent attributed this to the total lack of co-operation among various government departments.
However, Ranjiv Kumar, co-author of the book Jab nadi bandhi, alleges that bridges and culverts were not built on NH 31 to minimise the cost. Now the government is spending much more every year on relief and rescue work.
Hemant, a journalist who has authored a book on floods in Bihar, questions "how have these experts of yesteryear ignored the very basic principle of building bridges and culverts when extra care is always taken about the drainage of accumulated waters while building roads or railway tracks even in region not as flood prone as North Bihar. This utter disregard to the very tenet has reduced the land north of NH 31 to a big lake where water remains for at least six months."
The single-track rail line to the north-eastern states runs parallel to NH 31 and the northern bank of river Ganga. Since NH 31 is already working as a big wall, it prevents the waters of the Himalayan rivers from crossing to the southern side where the rail track runs. The rail track laid much earlier has, however, a better drainage facility than the NH-31. Still, it is not free from danger. Waters not only flood the NH at several points between Khagaria and Kursela there is always a danger of portions of this road being swept away by the fury of the rivers. This is what has happened this time.
Every monsoon the NH 31 becomes home to thousands of people rendered homeless by this flood caused by faulty planning. With their cattle and food-grains they make this road their temporary homes, further choking it.
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